Meditation FAQ

Frequently Asked Questions

Tibetan calligraphy by Ngak’chang Rinpoche

Why meditate?

What is meditation, exactly?

What kind of meditation do you teach?

Do I have to believe in Eastern religion to meditate?

Meditation is for wimps, hippies, and flakes – right?

But doesn’t meditation make you slack and spacey?

You are making meditation sound hard. Can I do this?

How much time will it take?

Isn’t meditation boring?

I can’t sit still – so I can’t meditate!

I can’t stop thinking for even a moment – so I can’t meditate!

I can’t sit on the floor with my legs bent in a pretzel shape – so I can’t meditate!

Do I need a meditation teacher?

Is there anyone who should not meditate?

Why meditate?

Some benefits of meditation are:

  • increased creativity and spontaneity
  • greater self-acceptance, self-understanding, and self-confidence
  • mindfulness: better focus, concentration, and patience
  • the ability to recognize counter-productive habitual patterns of thought and to let go of them
  • reduced tension (mental and physical), anxiety, stress, emotional conflict and turmoil
  • clarity of purpose and a sense of meaning; the ability to see what is important versus what is urgent but superficial
  • greater empathy, connection, harmony, and intimacy in relationships
  • health benefits, including lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol, and improved sleep
  • a sense of lightness, ease, peace, wholeness, relaxation, and well-being
  • spiritual insight; understanding of one’s relationship with the vastness of existence
  • passion for life, enjoyment, verve, and appreciation.

What is meditation, exactly?

‘Meditation’ is a vague term covering many different methods – ranging from sitting quietly to strenuous physical exercise. They also vary in purpose. Some purposes may be well-aligned with your current goals, and others may not.

Rather than trying to find a general definition for a collection of techniques that are only loosely connected, it may be more useful to find out more about some specific types of meditation that appeal to you.

What kind of meditation do you teach?

Aro teaches two main methods: shi-nè (pronounced shee-neh) and lhatong (lah-tong). These are closely related to methods which you may have heard of – such as: mindfulness meditation; insight meditation; shamatha-vipashyana; and vipassana.

The primary purpose of all these methods is to gain an experiential understanding of the nature of thought, awareness, and their relationship with reality. On that basis we can free ourselves from destructive personal habits and find increased clarity, creative energy, empathy, calmness, and enjoyment of life.

These methods are the subject of our free internet meditation course. We also offer an evening class series and a book on this topic.

Aro teaches a variety of other meditation practices that are useful once you have some experience with shi-nè and lhatong.

To better understand how the methods we teach relate with ‘meditation’ in general, it may be most useful to hear what they are not. Our methods are not prayer, reflection, affirmation, or introspection. They are not self-hypnosis and do not produce a trance. They are not about ‘going deeply into yourself’ or about ‘allowing your mind to go blank’. They are not similar to psychotherapy, either in methods or in goals. They do not involve guided fantasies in which you are asked to imagine yourself in a peaceful and beautiful place receiving magical gifts or profound advice from an infinitely wise and kind being.

Do I have to believe in Eastern religion to meditate?

No. The primary meditation practices we teach, shi-nè and lhatong, are not really religious in any way, or even spiritual. They are simply tools for understanding your mind. There is nothing in them to believe or disbelieve.

People of many religions have found this type of meditation useful as part of their spiritual practice. Many others practice meditation with entirely non-religious goals.

Although these meditation methods were discovered by the Buddha, there are only rare references to Buddhism in our internet meditation course.

Still, it is possible that meditation might conflict with some religious systems. If you have any doubts about its compatibility with your faith, please consult a religious teacher of your tradition.

Meditation is for wimps, hippies, and flakes – right?

No. Meditation is most useful to those who have the ability to take on a real-world project and carry it out successfully.

Meditation is part of the training regime for many professional athletes and some elite military units. They find it useful because meditation improves your focus, raises confidence, and reduces inner conflict. Meditation prepares you for ‘The Zone’ of optimal performance – in which extraordinary action feels effortless.

There is a misleading association between meditation and the 1960s counter-culture. That culture often valued passivity, confusion, and drug-induced fantasies over hard work, clarity, and realism. Meditation, by contrast, requires some determination, good sense, and practicality.

But doesn’t meditation make you slack and spacey?

Some kinds of meditation can have that effect, but this is not the intention of the techniques taught by Aro. (The ability to stay cool, calm, and collected under pressure is often useful – and that is a benefit of the methods we teach.)

Aro also teaches a variety of techniques for counteracting the urge to space out in meditation and in life. Meditation should make you energetic and perceptive, not lax and vague.

You are making meditation sound hard. Can I do this?

Yes. If you can stay in a chair for a few minutes, relax somewhat, and concentrate at least a little – you can meditate.

You may think you can’t meditate because you’ve tried a few times and ‘nothing happened’. If so, you may have been the victim of unrealistic expectations.

Firstly, you should not expect instant results. You would not expect to play at Carnegie Hall after your first piano lesson. Meditation is no different. If you meditate every day for a month, you will see benefits, and you will find that it becomes easier and more natural.

Secondly, you may have had the idea that meditation is about entering sort of special ‘spiritual’ state. That did not happen when you tried – and it did not seem like it was ever going to happen!

Meditation is a natural ‘ordinary’ process. Its aim is to fully experience whatever happens. That is something in which anyone can engage. In that state of utter ordinariness, you can discover the extraordinary nature of your mind, perception, and reality. That can—of course—engender states that might be described as ‘special’ or ‘spiritual’ – but the process of meditation is simply to appreciate what is, whether that seems rapturous or trivial.

How much time will it take?

Consistency—daily practice—is more important than quantity. You will see real benefits if you practice as little as ten minutes a day.

How much you get out depends on how much you put in. You will see greater benefits from practicing half an hour a day than ten minutes.

It may seem difficult to find half an hour a day to practice – in the face of: jobs, school, family, and other responsibilities. Many people say that the confidence, clarity, and creativity meditation provides makes them more effective in other activities. The time spent in meditation repays itself not merely by time saved elsewhere – but by the enhancement of our time in general.

Isn’t meditation boring?

It can be. It can also be fascinating. It can be as exquisitely beautiful as the rawness of nature – and in that, remarkable insights can be discovered.

Unfortunately—at the beginning—it is true that it is mostly boring. It is like learning to play a musical instrument. At first, everything is awkward and sounds bad. You have to play scales, over and over again. But with a few weeks of practice you become able to play pieces which sound increasingly like music. It becomes more pleasurable, less onerous, and you sense a growing feeling of accomplishment. The experience of meditation moves in just the same way.

I can’t sit still – so I can’t meditate!

If you can stay in a chair for five minutes, you can begin learning to meditate. You can start exactly where you are. At first, you may be restless and fidgety and unable to tolerate sitting for long – but with daily practice, you will make gradual progress. You will find—increasingly—that you can sit still. That makes it possible to meditate for longer. Also, you will see the benefit in other parts of your life. You will experience greater patience, concentration, and physical ease at work, in hobbies, and interacting with others.

I can’t stop thinking for even a moment – so I can’t meditate!

It is not necessary to stop thinking in order to meditate. Meditation does help calm the mind – and with practice, the rush of thoughts slows and clarifies. Eventually, you will find gaps in your thoughts – and then periods of peaceful silence combined with intelligent awareness.

I can’t sit on the floor with my legs bent in a pretzel shape – so I can’t meditate!

It is possible to meditate in any position. All that is needed is that you be comfortable and alert. Sitting in a chair can work perfectly – if you bring your spine into its natural alignment.

There are some benefits to sitting on the floor. Some tricks can make it more comfortable. These include details of posture and the use of supports, such as cushions. Different postures and supports work best for different people. It depends on your particular body. The Aro meditation courses explain in detail how to sit comfortably and alertly both in chairs and on the floor.

The pretzel shape may look more authentic – but it has no critical advantage over other positions. If you are sufficiently flexible, it is worth learning. Otherwise you can ignore it.

Do I need a meditation teacher?

You can certainly start to learn to meditate on your own. We offer various resources for beginning meditators that can help.

Learning to meditate is in many ways similar to learning to play a musical instrument, or learning a sport. You can learn to play the piano—or to ski—working alone from books and instructional videos. You might even become expert that way – but few succeed in isolation.

You will make more rapid progress with feedback from an expert who: answers your questions; helps diagnose problems; suggests solutions; and, who provides encouragement when you feel stuck. That is the rôle of a piano teacher, ski instructor, or meditation mentor.

Aro’s Membership programme provides this kind of support.

Is there anyone who should not meditate?

We do not recommend starting to meditate if you are experiencing symptoms of significant mental disorder, such as serious depression or psychosis. Meditation can be helpful as part of a course of treatment for mental illness – but only under the close daily supervision of someone who is expert in both meditation and psychiatry.